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Early Intervention to Prevent Homosexuality

(Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D © A Parent’s Guide To Preventing Homosexuality; IVP) 

The bulk of research on gender identity has been with boys. Male homosexuality is, in fact, my own clinical speciality; therefore, most of the advice is about boys. We hope that another writer will carry our work further to more fully investigate lesbianism and its prevention.

Perhaps you are concerned about your child and his or her sexual development. Maybe your son or daughter is saying things like “I must be gay” or “I am bisexual.” You have found same-sex porn in his room. You have found intimate journal entries about another girl in your daughter’s diary. The most important message we can offer is that there is no such thing as a “gay child” or a “gay teen.” We are all designed to be heterosexual. Confusion about gender is primarily a psychological condition, and to some extent, it can be modified.

At the very heart of the same-sex atraction condition is conflict about gender. In the boy, we usually see a gender wound that traces back to childhood. He comes to see himself as different from other boys. That differentness creates a feeling of inferiority and isolates him from other males.

For some little boys, the gender confusion is obvious like playing with dolls, but most do not go to that extreme. However, what is found is that they display a characteristic gender nonconformity that set them painfully apart from other boys. Speaking to adult clients, most of them remembered themselves in boyhood as unathletic, somewhat passive, lonely (except for female friends, unaggressive, and uninterested in rough-and-tumble play, and fearful of other boys, whom they found both intimidating and attractive. Many of them also had traits that could be considered gifts: they were bright, precocious, social and relational, and artistically talented. Because most of these men had not been exactly feminine as boys, their parents had not suspect anything amiss. Thus they had made no efforts at seeking therapy.

But on the inside, these men had, as boys, been highly ambivalent about their own gender. Many had been born sensitive and gentle, and they just were not sure that maleness could be part of “who they were.” Some professionals referred to this condition as “gender emptiness.” Gender emptiness arises from a combination of a sensitive inborn temperament and a social environment that does not meet this child’s special needs. This temperamentally at-risk boy needs (but does not get) particular affirmation from parents and peers to develop a secure masculine identity.

Such a boy will then, for reasons of both temperament and family dynamics, retreat from the challenges of identifying with his dad and the masculinity he represents. So instead of incorporating a masculine sense of self, the prehomosexual boy is doing the opposite – rejecting his emerging maleness and thus developing a defensive position against it. Later he will fall in love with what he has lost by seeking out someone who seems to posses what is missing within himself. This is because what we fall in love with is not the familiar, but the “other than me.”

Self-deception about gender is at the heart of the same-sex atraction condition. A child who imagines that he or she can be the opposite sex – or both sexes – is holding on to a fantasy solution to his or her confusion. This is a revolt against reality and a rebellion against the limits built into our created human natures.

Dealing with the problem of prehomosexuality is a process that must involve every family member. Mothers makes boys; fathers makes men. In infancy, both boys and girls are emotionally attached to the mother. She meets all her child’s primary needs. Girls can continue to develop in their feminine identification through the relationship with their mothers. On the other hand, a boy has an additional developmental task – to disidentify from his mother and identify with his father.

While learning language (“he and she,” “his and hers”), the child discovers that the world is divided into natural opposites of boys and girls, men and women. At this point, a little boy will not only begin to observe the difference, but he must now decide where he himself fits in the gender-divided world. The girl has the easier task. Her primary attachment is already to the mother, and thus she does not need to go through the additional developmental task of disidentifiyng from the person closest to her in the world – mom – to identify with the father. But the boy is different: he must separate from the mother and grow in his differentness from his primary love object if he is ever to be a heterosexual man.

Meanwhile, the boy’s father has to do his part. He needs to mirror and affirm his son’s maleness. He can play rough-and-tumble games with his son – games that are decidedly different from those he would play with the little girl. He can help his son learn how to throw and catch a ball. He can teach the toddler how to pound a wooden peg into a hole in a pegboard, or he can take his son with him into the shower, where the boy cannot help noticing that Dad has a male body, just like he has.

The penis is the essential symbol of masculinity – the unmistakable difference between male and female. This undeniable anatomical difference should be emphasized to the boy in therapy. If he does not succeed in “owning” his own penis, he will grow into an adult who will find continuing fascination in the penis of other men.

The boy who makes the unconscious decision to detach himself from his own male body is well on his way to developing a same-sex atraction orientation. Such a boy will sometimes be obviously effeminate, but more often he – like most prehomosexual boys – is what we call “gender-nonconforming.” That is, he will be somewhat different, with no close male buddies at the developmental stage when other boys are breaking away from close friendships with little girls (about age six to eleven) in order to develop a secure masculine identity. Such a boy also usually has a poor or distant relationship with his father.

I try to prevent a long and difficult therapy to change homosexuality in adulthood by encouraging early intervention in childhood. Parents, particularly fathers, can best affirm their sons’ weak masculine gender identity while it is still in the formative stage. Parental intervention can lead to an increase in gender esteem, preventing the sense of male inferiority and alienation from the world of men that so many homosexual men describe.

The idea is to prevent the boy from detaching from his normal maleness and to encourage him to claim the masculine identity for which he was designed, not to somehow mould him into the caricature of a macho man (this may not be who he is, and that is okay), but to help him develop his own maleness within the context of the personality characteristic with which he was born.

Much of this detachment began with a weak relationship with the father. Some fathers find a way to get involved in everything but their sons. They loose themselves in their careers, in travel, in golf, or any number of activities that becomes so all-important to them that they have no time for their boys. Or they fail to see that this particular son interprets criticism as personal rejection.

Or the problem may be rooted in a temperamental mismatch – that “one particular son” was much harder for dad to reach because of the child’s own sensitive temperament. His father found him hard to relate to, because they did not share common interest (perhaps the activities this particular son enjoys are more social and artistic and less typical masculine. And in the busyness and rush of life, this hard-to-reach boy was somehow put aside and neglected.

For a variety of reasons, some mothers also have a tendency to prolong their son’s dependence. A mother’s intimacy with her son is primal, complex, exclusive, and this powerful bond can easily deepen into a blissful symbiosis. But the mother may be inclined to hold on to her son in what becomes an unhealthy mutual dependency, especially if she does not have a satisfying, intimate relationship with the boy’s father. In such cases she can put too much energy into the boy, using him to fulfil her needs for love and companionship in a way that is not good for him.

A “salient” (that is, strong and benevolent) father will interrupt the mother-son “blissful symbioses,” which he instinctively sense is unhealthy. If a father wants his son to grow up straight, he has to break the mother-son bond that is proper to infancy but not in the boy’s best interest afterward. In this way, the father has to be a model, demonstrating that it is possible for his son to maintain a loving relationship with this woman, his mom, while still maintaining his own independence. In this sense, the father should function as a healthy buffer between mother and son.

Sometimes Mom might work against the father-son bond by keeping her husband away from the boy (“It’s too cold out for him,” “That might hurt him,” “He is busy doing things with me today”) in order to satisfy her own needs for male intimacy. Her son is a “safe” male with whom she can have an intimate emotional relationship without the conflict she may have to confront in her relationship with her husband. She might be too quick to “rescue” her son from Dad. She may cuddle and console the boy when his father disciplines or ignores him. Her excessive sympathy can discourage the little boy from making the all important maternal separation.

Furthermore, exaggerated maternal sympathy fosters self-pity – a feature that is often observed in both prehomosexual boys and homosexual men. Such exaggerated sympathy from the mother may encourage the boy to stay isolated from his male peers when he is hurt by their teasing or their excluding him.

Growing up straight is not something that just happens. It requires good parenting. It requires family support. And it takes time. It is a process. The crucial period is from one and a half to three years old, but the optimal time is before age twelve. If we do nothing, then with the onset of puberty, when he begins to feel deep sexual stirrings and romantic longings, this search for gender will become eroticized. He may start experimenting with other boys, or even start coming into contact with older same-sex atracted men. A boy who is confused about his sexual identity may experiment with same-sex intimacy, sometimes with an older man. Of course, that is likely to reinforce a same-sex attraction identity.

I have found this to be a good test of the early father-son bond: who does the little boy run to when he is happy, proud of something he has done, looking for encouragement, or seeking fun and excitement? If it is always Mom, then something is wrong with the father-son relationship.

It seems very rare for a man who struggles with homosexuality to feel that he was sufficiently loved, affirmed, and mentored by his father while growing up or to feel that he identified with his father as a role model. In fact, often the son remembers the relationship as characterized by a feeling of neglect, mutual hostility, and a paternal lack of interest.

But like all human experience, this is not universal. Sometimes the father-son relationship does seem reasonably adequate. In such cases, there may be a problem with aggressive and hostile (usually older) brothers or other male peers or abusers who have created a deep wounding. Still the same essential problem remains: the boy has a deep sense of gender inadequacy, of not measuring up in the company of men, of not being good enough within the world of males. Call it a problem in gender esteem.

Everybody has a deep longing to be held, to be loved by a father figure, to be mentored into the world of men, and to have his masculine nature affirmed and declared good enough by his male peers, his male elders, and mentors. If none of these relationships is strong enough to welcome the boy into the world of men, then he will yearn after other men from a distance.

Of course, no intervention can guarantee that a child will grow up heterosexual. Intervention can only maximize a person’s chances by creating the best possible environment.